In my previous column, I wrote about a recent study done by the Institute on Family Studies (IFS) on how young women who marry in their early twenties without cohabitating with either their husband, or someone else, are more likely to experience long-term marital success.
But as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “In a moment … the rest of the story.”
The rest of the story, from The National Marriage Project’s State of Our Unions 2022 report, is that couples who get married earlier, rather than later, tend to experience greater romantic satisfaction and better communication – thereby leading to marriages that are built to “go the distance.”
These marriages are called “cornerstone marriages” meaning the marital relationship, rather than career and finances, serves as the foundation upon which the rest of life is built.
These findings contradict the current conventional wisdom that it is better to wait to tie the knot until you have “all your ducks in a row” regarding education, career, and finances before you enter into marriage. Later marriages are called “capstone marriages” i.e., marriage serving as the last stage of life-building, like installing the roof only after the rest of the building is in place.
On an emotional level, getting married younger means experiencing less broken relationships, and therefore less emotional baggage being brought into a marriage. While younger couples may struggle early on with finances and careers, they are less likely to be struggling emotionally.
In addition, as family scholar Alan J. Hawkins writes of this new research, “When it comes to marital quality, the story is clearer and more positive for cornerstone marriages, especially for men.”
Why is this so?
It is because marriage helps most men see beyond themselves and pivots them toward responsibility as husbands and fathers. As George Gilder has written in Men and Marriage, “The public philosophy of an unmarried male focuses on immediate gratification.”
Thus, delaying marriage results in behaviors that keep men from emotionally maturing while increasing self-absorption. As Hawkins writes, “…Later-married couples may have some significant challenges to surmount of their own, such as the difficulty of merging a set identity into the crucial ‘we’-identity of married life after a lengthy adulthood focused on self.”
Another key factor that Hawkins identified was that couples who marry younger do so because they want to, not because they are feeling familial and societal pressures to do so. Thus, they enter marriage with a stronger personal foundation based on their own convictions, rather than feeling compelled by other forces to get married.
Hawkins concluded his study by stating, “Cornerstone couples swim against a social current that too often questions their choices. Our findings question that cultural blueprint. Marriage doesn’t have to be a crowning capstone that signals a status of successful young adult achievement, a status that too many will find difficult to obtain. For many, marriage can be the solid cornerstone on which to frame together the walls and windows of a meaningful life for the couple and their children.”
It is the cornerstone upon which a solid building rests, and not a capstone, which merely finishes off a structure after everything else, whether good or bad, has been built.
As former President Ronald Reagan once said, “…when so much around is whispering a little lie that we should live only for the moment and for ourselves, it’s more important than ever to affirm an older and more lasting set of values … the family remains the fundamental unit of American life.” Of course, this is true of all human cultures. Aristotle said as much from the start in his Politics.
Since strong marriages are a cornerstone for a strong society, we need to take another look and re-evaluate if it is best for us to wait until we feel everything is in place before pursuing marriage, and instead decide to choose to build a life with a spouse earlier, rather than later. If we do so, it will be beneficial for us all. Stable marriages begat stable families, leading to stable societies.
Timothy S. Goeglein is the vice president of government and external relations for Focus on the Family, Washington DC
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